Then one day Jolie announced that she was moving to Florida. My mother was sad for one reason; I, for quite another. Jolie asked me whether I might like it if the twins slept over at my house one night before the move. But she already knew the answer. I planned for that night in a manner befitting Martha Stewart. Every moment was accounted for, filled by some interesting and educational activity or another. I even planned the twins' dinner. It was grand. The only bump arrived at bedtime, when Tyisha felt homesick and cried. Devastated, I ran to my mother, who knew, in the way of mothers, how to make it better for the little girl. Soon she was asleep.
Fast forward years, six, maybe, and I was on a forced visitation with my father, who'd decided to trade time in someone's condo in Florida for time in his apartment in Paris, and there he and I were in Ft. Pierce, in an old lady's apartment decorated principally with bamboo and loud tropical prints, glass doors sliding onto a tiny patio too hot in any event to touch with bare feet, a postage-stamp pool, and no beach in sight. Florida sans beach with my stranger-father. I wanted to cry. What got me through were letters from my friends, who all seemed to be having better summers than I. My father would suggest a game of tennis, and I'd decline, most often. When I did accept, we'd walk over to the gated community's courts, and I'd whack the ball so hard it would sail over the fence, forcing my dad to leave the court to retrieve it, while I stood in place, smiling grimly. We ate a lot of Campbell's soup, because Stranger-Father, as it happened, didn't know how to cook. I remember talking very little. Once, he mused, "You get so many letters." What to do but nod? Another time he wondered about the Love's Baby Soft I kept on the bureau. Embarrassed, I told him that it was perfume, and promptly turned as pink as the bottle.
We were dying, the two of us, in Ft. Pierce's searing version of August, no facilitator to help us communicate through years of distance. And then I remembered Jolie. One morning I declared that I wanted to visit Jolie and the children, who lived perhaps forty-five minutes north. I was surprised when my dad agreed to take me there; only now do I see that he was as bored and lonely as I was, and this, if nothing else, was something to do. When I telephoned Jolie, she sounded excited by the idea, and gave me directions. Close to her house, the neighborhoods abruptly changed from lushly foliaged gated communities like ours to one-story squat little stucco houses set feet from one another. Closer still, and my father and I were in the unusual position of feeling like outcasts because of our skin color. Elderly black men sitting on their stoops and smoking would scan our car and us in it with slow, languorous eyes, not unfriendly, but not welcoming, either. It seemed hotter here. Chevys and Oldsmobiles - the big old cars - were parked in front of most houses. And here was Jolie's house, at last - pink stucco, and seemingly not much bigger than my bedroom at home. We parked, and my father leaned back, settling himself deep into his seat, and told me that he'd wait for me; I could take as long as I wanted. Nervous, I got out of the car and walked slowly to the house. Jolie threw open the door and hugged me, her smile wide as ever. But behind her I heard yelling. Jolie shrugged helplessly, and called for the twins. But who were these lanky kids? Had I forgotten that Tony and Tyisha would grow up without me? I guess that I had.
To me they were polite but indifferent, much like my father and I to each other; they didn't remember me. They soon hurried off to the back of the house, back to their games, their lives. Meanwhile Jolie introduced me to the girls' father, who looked less than pleased to meet me. She went to make me an iced tea, and he followed her, leaving me sitting, my hands underneath me, on the edge of a sagging sofa. He was hurling words at her; his tone was low and mean, as if, I thought, he was chastising a pet who'd misbehaved. When she came back, her eyes were filled with tears and apology. "He doesn't want you here," she whispered to me. "I'm sorry, Sarah. Finish your tea, and we'll say goodbye." She squeezed my arm. In the pressure was the hope that I would understand.
I was out of that house in under fifteen minutes, and as I slid into my car seat, my father looked at me expectantly. I shrugged. We were as silent on the return trip as we'd been on the trip out, and when my dad eventually pulled into our parking spot at the condo, I leapt out of the car. "Going to check the mail," I cried, clutching the mail key to my chest like the lifeline it was. Only at the wall of mailboxes, my safe place, did I allow myself to cry.